Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Experience of C.S. Lewis

Up until a few weeks ago, this blogpost title would have been non-existent; I had close to no experience of C.S. Lewis. Of course I'd read some of his famous works (The Chronicles of Narnia) as a child, but when others would speak of C.S. Lewis, I didn't even know he wrote those works.

C.S. Lewis

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During conversations with other Orthodox youth, especially with our OCF (campus ministry) at the University of Kentucky, they would speak of C.S. Lewis with a certain "awe" in relation to Orthodox Christianity. I would listen as they described their experience reading his work and how they felt it related to their own understanding of Christianity. I could never relate and found myself asking them: "Who is this author? Is he Orthodox?"

My friends would describe his works, ending each desciption of him by saying, "he was an 'anonymous' Orthodox." Their meaning was that his words and thought process was completely Orthodox, but that he wasn't a baptized member of the Faith. They strongly recommended that I read some of his works, especially Mere Christianity.

Although an avid reader, I was very prideful about mainly reading only Orthodox authors. So I thought it was just silly to read any book about Christianity not written by someone who shares my Faith. I'm not really into fiction, and although I enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I wasn't interested in taking the time to read anything else. There are plenty of great Orthodox authors, what's the need to read about Christianity by someone who wasn't?

All that changed a few weeks ago as I finally decided to pick up a copy of Mere Christianity (with great reluctance).

When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. This work excels with its simplicity; very genuine in its approach to living as a Christian in society. Truly a timeless work in that I'm able to place his personal experience within my own context. 

Some quotes from this work:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?"

"Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."

"Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else."

I'm very appreciative for the persistance of others in their desire for me to experience this masterpiece and I highly recommend it to others!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Competition: When Emotions Are High

We are a sports-centered society; we live for the competition, and nowhere else does it show better than in sports. Whether it be a little league game, high school rivalries, college games, or the professional stage, SPORTS is EVERYWHERE!

Most likely, you've grown up playing some form of organized sporting activity: tee ball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, football, or track and fields (just to name a few). Maybe you excelled in a certain game and played while in school - old "boys" love to remember their glory days of yesteryears. 

Emotions run high during competition, it can get intense, there is no question about it. On the playing field, there's definitely sweat, blood, and tears. Whether actually playing the game or cheering for your team, we feel invested in the game that is being played. "Fan" comes from fanatical, and if honest, our emotions due get fanatical. We've all had an outburst or two (maybe more) that we'd care to forget. So if you can relate, take a few minutes and compare the below sports stories:

1. A few weeks ago, athletes at the highest level competed in the sport of tennis at one of only 4 Grand Slam events: the US Open held in Flushing, New York. Stakes are even higher at the biggest events. During the final match for the female division between Serena Williams (American) and Samantha Stosur (Australian), there was an ugly incident which many continue to discuss (although I will admit, many commentators have blown it greatly out of proportion).

Serena Williams won a point during the match, but was overruled by the umpire for a foul (in very laymen's terms). You can view the incident and follow-up stories HERE. I must also admit, that I personally thought that the umpire's call was ridiculous and wrong, and that Serena Williams' reaction wasn't as bad as it could have been, and certainly not as bad as I've seen by other athletes in competition.

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With all that said, I'd like to compare and constrast with another sporting incident and reaction.

2. One of the greatest individual achievements in sports is a perfect game in baseball, which is where the pitcher allows not one single hit. Its rare and held in special honor among baseball players, coaches, and fans. Back in June 2010, the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball team had such an incident. Detroit pitcher, Armando Galarraga was looking to join that elite class with a perfect game. Late in the 9th inning, during the final out the batter hit the ball, Galarraga raced over to cover first base and touch the bag with ball in hand for an out - and his perfect game. However, the umpire called the runner safe, ending his hope for the coveted perfect game. It was the wrong call, the umpire made a huge mistake.

Galarraga's reaction was unthinkable, to be perfectly honest. He was wronged, and he knew it, but how did he react to his dream being shattered? He didn't scream and curse, he didn't throw down his glove or hat, he didn't stomp his feet. He simply smiled!

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The following day, the game went on. The Detroit Tigers played again, and the umpire called the game. A short video clip of the exchange can be found HERE. Before the game, there was a touching interaction photographed below:

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Sportsmanship is a term often overlooked. In simple terms, its being grateful for being on the field of play in the first place. Thankful for the competition, thankful for hard, fair, and safe playing.

By comparing these sports stories, I'm not trying to pass judgement upon Serena Williams and praise upon Armando Galarraga. I'm just trying to relate for others (and myself) that where there is competition, emotions are high. Sportsmanship and perspective are always greatly appreciated.

- A Day in the Life of the "Tee Ball All-American" Youth Director

Monday, September 12, 2011

God's Grandparents: Joachim & Anna

In the Life of the Church, on September 9th, we commemorate the Righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim & Anna (Virgin Mary's parents).

This commemoration follows the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8th).

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This righteous God-loving couple, although commemorated at every Orthodox service (during the dismissal prayer), are sadly often overlooked. A beautiful example of obedience and faithful living. While living childless into their old age, being scorned by society for this fact, they remained faithful and pious. Praying to God for the blessing of a child, they received the great honor of giving birth to the Mother of God, the Even-Virgin Mary.

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To commemorate these faithful saints, we were blessed to have about 40 people gather for Vespers at the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum, part of the Menil Collection in the Houston area.

Enjoy the below reading of the hymnography of the Orthodox Church commemorating Ss Joachim & Anna:

Sticherion of "O Lord I have cried":

She who before was a barren land giveth birth to fertile ground, and having given forth a holy fruit from her fruitless womb, she nurtureth her with milk. O awesome wonder, the nourisher of our Life, who received the Bread from heaven in her womb is nourished with milk at her mother’s bosom.

Come, let us now join chorus with hymnody, O ye who love the feasts of the Church, and with faith let us hold festival, honoring the memory of Joachim and Anna, the honored couple; for they gave birth to the Mother of God for us, the pure Virgin. Wherefore, they have passed from the transitory things over to that which is incorrupt, to the mansions of ever-lasting life, praying that we be saved.

Today all creation is adorned with gladness, O most hymned Theotokos, offering up, with oneness of mind, the annual commemoration of thy parents, celebrating together the wondrous Joachim and Anna; for they have become mediators of joy, giving birth to thee against all hope, the nourisher of our Life, who hast caused the Light to shine forth.

Today Anna rejoiceth, leaping up in spirit, and she is filled with joyful gladness, having obtained her desire, the fertility which she had long cherished; for she put forth the fruit of the promise and blessing, the most immaculate Mary who gave birth to our God, to shine like the sun upon those who sit in darkness.

O blessed couple, ye have surpassed all parents, in that ye gave rise to her who transcendeth all creation. Truly blessed art thou, O Joachim, having become the father of such a maiden! And blessed is thy womb, O Anna, for thou hast put forth the Mother of our Life! Blessed is the bosom wherewith thou didst nourish with milk her who nurtured Him Who sustaineth all creation! Him do ye entreat, we beseech you, O most blessed one, that our souls find great mercy!

Troparion of Ss Joachim & Anna (Tone 1):

Joachim and Anna, who were righteous in the law of grace, have for us given birth unto a God-given babe. Wherefore, the divine Church keepeth splendid festival today, celebrating their honored memory with gladness, glorifying God Who hath lifted up the horn of salvation for us in the house of David.

Through the prayers of the Holy Righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim & Anna, O Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director